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TokyoTreat Japanese Snacks BlogThe history of Sanrio’s most famous kawaii character: Hello Kitty

The history of Sanrio’s most famous kawaii character: Hello Kitty

By jojo
March 11, 2019

Together with Pokemon's Pikachu, it's with no doubt that Hello Kitty is one of the most well-known Japanese characters in the world! She has won over the hearts of younger and older girls (and boys) since Sanrio started producing Hello Kitty themed goods in 1974. But aside from the fact that Hello Kitty is cute, there are some things about her that many people don't know about her!

How did it all start?

Sanrio was founded in 1962 by Shintaro Tsuji, he was of the first people to discover the appeal of kawaii. The first items he created were rubber sandals with flowers printed on them, he noticed that the cuter his items were, the more popular! Therefore he decided to hire cartoonists to design cute characters for his merchandise. One of these cartoonists was Yuko Shimizu who designed Hello Kitty, and the first item ever produced was a coin purse which was released in 1974!

The Hello Kitty original coin purse featuring Hello Kitty, a bottle of milk and a fish in a bowl!

Hello Kitty's first appearance in the United States was made only two years later in 1976 and some became a worldwide phenomenon! She was now the icon for Japanese pop culture and her worth increased from $6 billion in 2010 to $42 billion in 2018. In the beginning, Hello Kitty goods were made for a younger crowd but as she became more popular new products for teenagers and adults were released as well. You can find anything Hello Kitty these days, from stationary and plushies, to suitcases and toasters!

Who is Hello Kitty?

Even though Hello Kitty looks like a cat, she is actually a little girl. She was created in Japan but designed to be British because Japanese people were obsessed with foreign countries at that time. The US was also a popular interest among Japanese people, but since they wanted Hello Kitty to be unique she was made British and her actual full name is Kitty White! In the story Kitty lives in London together with her twin sister Mimmy and her parents George and Mary. An interesting fact is that Hello Kitty actually owns her own pet called Charmmy Kitty, therefore several people have argued that Hello Kitty is actually a girl who looks like a cat. Sanrio's motto is social communication and therefore they chose to the word 'hello' even though they were thinking of calling her 'hi kitty' for a while!

Although their faces look identical, Charmmy Kitty walks on all fours unlike has Hello Kitty and doesn't wear any clothes.

Hello Kitty and her family.

The mystery surrounding Hello Kitty's lack of mouth.

Many people have been wondering why Hello Kitty doesn't have a mouth. Sanrio's explanation for this is because Hello Kitty speaks from her heart. Because they wanted Hello Kitty to be their ambassador for the world she doesn't need a language and they hope that she will encourage friendship all over the world. Another explanation of her lack of mouth is that people can protect their own feelings onto her, whether they're feeling happy or sad. The lack of mouth and black eyes do give Hello Kitty a rather expressionless look which is sadly one of the reasons that her popularity has been declining over the past few years. Interestingly, Hello Kitty does have a mouth in her animation series, A Storybook Adventure, this was probably done in an attempt to express her emotions better. However many Japanese anime like the ones mentioned here have characters that are a lot better at showing emotions, therefore the Hello Kitty cartoon wasn't much of a success.

Did you grow up with Hello Kitty? What do you think of her? Is there another Sanrio character you like? Cinnamoroll? Pompompurin? Let us know in the comments below!

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